Editorial | Illinois stuck in the muck

Editorial | Illinois stuck in the muck

A Governing magazine poll shows Illinois ranks in the bottom half of states in growth of gross domestic product.

When it comes to Illinois' financial status, bad news isn't bad news anymore. It's increasingly just the way things are.

For example, Chief Executive magazine reported recently that a poll of corporate chief executives ranked Illinois No. 48 out of 50 as a state in which to do business. The Land of Lincoln has held that status for four consecutive years.

It's a relief that Illinois didn't fall to No. 49 or 50. Otherwise, there's not much in the study to write home about.

Not only is Illinois inhospitable to job creators, but state officials show little to no interest in improving things.

Well, what do those CEOs know anyway? They're nothing but malefactors of great wealth, predatory plutocrats and miserly millionaires. At least that's a typical response from the defenders of the failed status quo.

No one, of course, is ever going to feel much warmth for those at the top of the economic totem pole, and there's no reason why anyone should. They've demonstrated they know how to take care of themselves, their very success generating the backlash that often comes their way.

But there's a good reason why the Chief Executive magazine poll matters and why this state's elected officials ought to be more interested in improving this state's reputation as a place to do business.

It comes from another publication, Governing magazine.

It reported earlier this month — not long after the Chief Executive magazine poll came out — that Illinois ranks in the bottom half of the states in economic growth last year.

While Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Utah claimed the top five spots in growth of their gross domestic product, Illinois ranked No. 33.

Of our six neighboring states, Illinois' GDP growth trailed Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin and outpaced Kentucky, Missouri and Iowa.

GDP represents the total value of everything produced by all the people and companies in a state or country.

The U.S. has the largest GDP in the world, but the various states do not all contribute to it in equal amounts. Low or negative economic growth reflects a recession or near-recession economy that strains personal finances, investments and job growth.

So while it may seem to be an esoteric measure divined by experts, GDP affects everyone from the top to the bottom of the economy.

Illinois has tremendous advantages — a central location in the nation, an outstanding transportation network and an educated workforce. It ought to be thriving. Instead, it's flailing and failing.

Unfortunately, those who look to relocate or expand in Illinois have concluded that this state's weaknesses — high taxes and a costly regulatory and litigation environment, to give just two reasons — outweigh its strengths.

As a consequence, Illinois' GDP grew just 1.2 percent last year.

Nationally, GDP is approaching 3 percent, and even that is not good enough. But 1.2 percent?

Behind that disappointing number, of course, are disappointed people who'd like a job, a better job or an opportunity to boost themselves and their families.

The powers-that-be don't like to be reminded, but those who fit the above categories are increasingly looking outside Illinois for the opportunity to improve their lives. That's why Illinois is expected to lose one or perhaps two members of its delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives after the next Census.

Yet our legislators in Springfield do nothing.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, can find no common ground on which to build a better, stronger and more prosperous Illinois.

Other states, whether run by Democrats, Republicans or both, have avoided the kind of political pitfalls that have dragged Illinois into the muck.

Washington, a solid Democratic state, had the top GDP in the nation last year — a smoking 4.4 percent. It's home to old-school industries — Boeing — and high-tech newbies — Amazon and Microsoft. Its unemployment rate is 2.2 percent, with the State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council projecting "strong personal income gains" as a consequence of the competition for workers.

Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Utah are all showing GOP growth above 3 percent.

Among the bottom dwellers were Louisiana (minus-0.2 percent), Connecticut (minus-0.2 percent), Kansas (minus-0.1 percent), Mississippi (0.3 percent) and Oklahoma (0.5 percent).

Well, Illinois is not a bottom-dweller in GDP growth — at least not yet. But it can — and ought — to do better. Perhaps someday, when elected officials of both parties decide to get serious about doing their jobs, it will.

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